Category Archives: doctrine

Meditations on TULIP, Part three

By anonymous

See part one and part two here.

Irresistible Grace – There is no formula known to man that explains the the timing or how the call will be answered. After hearing the gospel, which draws the elect by the Holy Spirit, many begin a very unexpected journey. Some cry out to him, then are allowed to continue on for some time- wrestling – working out their faith – feeling the crushing despair of unbelief. Others are immediately struck with a deep and abiding faith. God knows every struggle and knows what each individual needs to be refined.

Even those who appear to be strongest in their faith will admit that, in weak moments, they struggle and wrestle with unbelief. As they go through this, their cries don’t go unnoticed by God. His saving grace, once poured out, saturates believers to the point that even though part of them doubts, the overwhelming and irresistible grace of God always wins out.

Sometimes our doubt or sinfulness manifests itself in actions that bring shame or even horrible consequences but for true believers, it never wins. As we grow in grace and knowledge, this becomes clearer. God’s gracious grip on us does not let up -no matter how hard we may squirm to get away.

Perseverance of the Saints – This is often flippantly dismissed by those who say -”Once saved always saved”. True believers cannot claim to be saved then go about living life in whatever way they please because now they’re saved. It cannot be reduced to a simple and trite slogan. No, to persevere implies struggle.

Saints- that’s all believers – will struggle. They will recognize their own depravity. They will gratefully and thankfully recognize that God chose them unconditionally. They didn’t have to do something or prove themselves. The sacrifice of Christ, the atonement is for them. God has given them this and set them apart from those who have made themselves gods.

God gives them everything they need to persevere. Some limp along with physical pains and struggles that discourage and pull them down, others wrestle with emotional or inward grief that they may feel is unspeakable. There are those who deal with both physical and emotional pain. But God never leaves. He never forsakes his people. There are scores of testimonies of many Christians slaughtered throughout history for their faith. Their stories are lost to us but these souls are dear to their Heavenly Father.

We only persevere through the strength and grace that God gives us. Through everything, we keep moving along with our eyes on the cross – knowing He cares for us.

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Meditations of TULIP, part 2

See part one here.

by anonymous:

Unconditional Election – The mention of this term is often the springboard for arguments for and against predestination. To me, the word “unconditional” underlines the importance of understanding the previous point -Total Depravity. God’s election or choosing is not based on conditions – such as those who keep his law perfectly or those with bloodlines to Abraham. He doesn’t choose the best of the best. This is obvious if you know any true believers. They are not the best. God is choosing from a world full of depraved people. Unfortunately, His choosing is assumed to be accomplished in the same way that we might choose something – “Let’s see, I’ll try one of these people because they’re charming and maybe a few of these funny people, oh, and lots of these blonde people. I really love blonde people! And, I guess I have to take all of these outwardly pious people. They try so hard.” Again, we try to squeeze God into our tiny little minds.

It seems that too much time and energy has been put into coming up with an explanation of how and why God might choose certain people. Humans try to pin God down. How could he do this? How can he choose, yet, also say that all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved. But maybe we should ask, “what right do we have to question or ask how this works?”

When people question God’s actions, they make themselves as God. They judge him, using feeble minds and tangled arguments, to justify themselves. Imagine your reaction if someone who has openly hated you, and with whom you had no relationship, demanded to know how you decided who is invited to a party at your home. What if they mocked you and said you were unfair while demanding an explanation and questioning your authority to invite specific people into your home. Your reaction…? Would you feel like you owed them an explanation? It is very shaky ground for humans to question God, trying to find inconsistencies as if they can trip Him up and then demand He provide an explanation. This is frightening stuff.

We do this to God when we question and argue with each other. Even the “best” Christians feel somewhat exasperated and wish God would have made it more clearly in line with their own thinking. Again and again, we refuse to believe that God’s ways are not our ways.

So do we argue with God about how people are saved? Do we proudly claim to be the elect, resting on our heritage, while patronizingly accepting that even minorities and bad people are sometimes saved? At some point we have to own up to the repugnant ideas we have accepted for years. We should collapse in fear at the thought of where God could have left us.

Yes, I am one of the elect……I met no conditions or qualifications……unconditionally elected!

Limited Atonement – Not to mean God is limited – God’s hands are not tied. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was not barely enough to squeak the elect into heaven. Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. There is never a question of His death and resurrection being incomplete or an atonement that could only handle a percentage of sinners. Jesus’ sacrifice was complete – more than enough for all. Just as when he broke the bread and pieces of fish – He started with a small portion and ended with food left over. His grace has no limits and spills out to even the unbelievers and those who persecute the church.

The atonement, however, is limited to those who call on his name. The limits stem from the sinfulness of people. There will always be wicked people – sons of belial – who have a deep and abiding hatred for God. They hate God and want nothing to do with the saving grace of Christ. They work overtime in their evil ways and justify their actions by saying there is no God. They attack the gospel with vicious and mocking criticism and glory in their own intellect. God is completely and perfectly just and fair to limit the atonement to those who call upon His name. He requires only that we call on him and even gives us what we need in order to do this.

Those who have made themselves into god, angrily and jealously look on Christians as fools, who in weakness, have chosen to believe on the one true God. The wicked believe we live in a dream world – that we believe a fairy tale. But it’s the very weakness, the crying out, the begging for forgiveness, that brings us to our knees, that ultimately gives us strength in Christ.

God is completely just in his actions. Again, the limits come from those who refuse him.

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Meditations on TULIP, Part 1

In the late 16th and early 17th centuries, the Reformed Churches in Holland were fighting for survival. Among many of the political dangers of the day, a minister named Jacobus Arminius was teaching doctrines that had not been taught since the days of Pelagius. The churches were concerned. As these doctrines began to take hold in the churches, the Church determined that a Synod must be held to examine these teachings in the light of scripture. The Synod took place in the town of Dort in the year 1618-1619.

The “Remonstrants”, as the followers of Arminius were called, took issue with five points of Reformed Theology. They “remonstrated” against them – hence the name. They taught that man is not completely depraved, but has the power within himself apart from any divine intervention to choose what is good. They taught that God’s election was was based upon foreseen faith, and other such things.

In response to these teaching, the Synod of Dort formulated to Canons of Dordt, with five heads of doctrine answering the remonstrance of the Remonstrants. All five points of the Remonstrants were condemned as contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ. These Canons are readily available and are still confessed by confessional reformed churches. If the reader is interested, you can find them here.

These five heads of doctrine, as the canon puts it, were later turned into a mostly unfortunate acronym for the education of children. The acronym is TULIP. Total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints. Much harm, though, has been done by misunderstanding the teachings of scripture and trying to fit these wondrous and profound truths into a five point acronym.

I would recommend that if you wish to fully examine these doctrines by the light of scripture, that you do so with the teachings of the Canons, rather than the acronyms of pop theology.

Unfortunately, the later history of Reformed Churches showed that we also of the Reformed tradition are totally depraved, and prone to the same illness as the rest of the world. We can become proud, condescending, harsh and argumentative, forgetting our own teachings of God’s unconditional election. Thus, far too often, these five points were turned into intellectual exercises used to hammer unsuspecting Arminians into compliance. We have, not surprisingly, been relatively unsuccessful.  I say this with self-deprecating humor, and speak from my own history.

It was with tremendous joy that I recently received a personal devotional from a friend. He was seeking to understand the doctrines of scripture and examine his own soul, using the TULIP acronym. He has given me permission to reprint it here, but would rather stay anonymous.

I am showing this to you to show you that there is no true doctrine that does not stir the soul, condemn the flesh, and exalt us to the throne room of God, where he alone is glorious. May we all examine these things as my friend has, and glorify our wonderful savior, who with his precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sin.

I shall present these meditations in five parts, and it is my prayer that they will be as encouraging, stirring and exalting to you as they were to me. The rest of this blog are the words of my friend, offered without edits.

Total Depravity

Total Depravity – It sounds so completely and irreversibly evil, that the average person would obviously not want anything to do with it, let alone be labeled with it. After all, most of us try pretty hard to get along and be kind or civil to those we meet. We don’t feel inclined to run around bashing people’s brains in. Total sounds final….depressingly finished.

I have to step back from the term to understand it. When I back away from all my “wonderful” qualities and contemplate honestly what I am – search for my flaws – if I pray “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” I am asking God to reveal my true nature –to show me my faults. Pondering this and fervently desiring truth will reveal the ugly things that most don’t want to admit.

Sin in the world has corrupted everything – including things we can’t control. Our bodies aren’t perfect. Yes, we can exercise and workout to the point that we have what the world sees as an attractive and fit body. But, we know its flaws. We know the odd little things we try to keep hidden….a little pocket of fat, oddly shaped feet, lack of hair, too much hair, strange pigmentation, intestinal disorders, dandruff, psoriasis, bad breath, constipation…..the list can go on and on. I believe everyone has some physical characteristic that makes them embarrassed or ashamed. We are discontent with the body which is actually “Wonderfully Made”. There is no perfect body. Only Adam and Eve got to try those out.

Our minds suffer from all manner of depravity- the root of which is deprave: to pervert the meaning or intention of something. The intention of our minds in their perfect state, before the fall, wouldn’t have been to be forgetful, lazy and prone to wander. Our minds wouldn’t have wasted time stroking our egos or imagining the variety of warped desires that so easily pop into our heads and to which we gladly succumb. Our minds are weak. We can pretend to understand the things of God and even argue theological points that aren’t completely revealed, convincing ourselves that we have great understanding, while actually creating a god that fits into our tiny little minds……back to that first sin…..we will be as God.

I know that I am prone by nature to hate God and my neighbor. Hate is a strong word but if we’re honest, we must see how often we use our minds to rationalize a way around God’s law. We often see God standing between us and great pleasure. How can He frown on something that on the surface seems so delightful? He must not understand me. Why do I have to feel so guilty? I’m not a bad person…..I just want to break his laws and suffer no consequences. Yes, I want God to go away. I know I didn’t choose Him. There was no little spark of goodness and sweetness that made me make a decision to join up with those fine Christians. They’re often annoying as hell. No, I didn’t decide. Jesus Christ grabbed my heart with a strong hand and tightened his grip. Sometimes he shakes me out of my stupor with that same grip as if saying, “Hey, where is your brother? where is your sister? where are the poor? Where is the orphan? Where is the widow? Are your children crying? Does your wife need you? Quit thinking about yourself. You are not God.” Yeah, I’m pretty much, totally depraved.

Surely Christ could not have been tempted in all points but without sinning. Could he have been tempted like me? Really? It says so. But, I want to feel alone – as if I’m the only one who ever had to deal with this. Then, I can sin and say no one understands. No one has ever felt like this……not true. That one who died for me knows. He knows. He suffered and died so that I could look at my life, my body, my DNA, my mind, my desires and say, “I am depraved….yep, pretty much totally.” But, I’m not left there. It isn’t complete and irreversible. It’s not final. I am damaged goods which appear perfect before God – washed in the blood of Christ. It is astounding! I can’t even imagine what it would be like for God to see me without sin. I don’t know what that person looks like…..not, yet.

Go to Part 2 here:

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